In the Belly of the Beast

How Herbs can Fuel our Liberation - Part I

Overview

Preface: Why This, Why Now

On October 8, 2023, I presented a workshop called Rooted Change: Thriving through Social Unrest. I taught herbal remedies to activists to help sustain them in their liberation practices. I conceived and taught this workshop before the liberation struggles in Palestine, Congo, Sudan, Haiti, and other regions affected by colonialism gained widespread media attention. Now, 6 months later, I want to revisit these themes for the current moment. Specifically, I want to provide those of us living under the empire—in the belly of the beast—ways to maintain momentum in these ongoing freedom struggles.

I understand deeply that capitalism makes us ill-equipped for longevity. We’re exhausted and defeated. This impacts the way we show up for our wellness and the way we show up for communities in struggle. As an herbalist, I often discuss how herbs help sustain our physical and emotional well-being. I believe herbs can also help sustain our liberation struggles, and this series will explain how.

If you consider yourself an activist, community worker, or someone who feels powerless watching so many ongoing crimes against humanity, this series is for you. If you attended Rooted Change last year, thank you! I hope you can revisit these topics with an evolved perspective.

To resist hopelessness is to resist oppression.

No liberation struggle is won overnight. Freedom requires commitment and dedication, and those against liberation will always try to break the people’s hope for freedom. To resist hopelessness is to resist oppression. As a community organizer, I’ve worked around 3 common antagonists to hope: uncertainty, community conflict, and a disconnection from our imagination. This series will cover how to nurture ourselves and our movements despite this opposition.

Pushing through Uncertainty

Uncertainty alone is not bad, but the fear it produces can weaken our hope. This fear can be internal or external, real or imagined. Recognizing and confronting fear is the first step toward leading courageous liberation movements.

Fear and the Kidneys - Biomedicine Principles

This diagram shows the stress response in which the pituitary gland releases the hormone ACTH which acts on our adrenal glands, located on top of the kidneys. The kidneys then release cortisol and adrenaline, which produce bodily responses such as tunnel vision, increased blood pressure, and quicker breathing.

Fear is a necessary primitive human emotion that protects us from danger. It is the emotion that activates our Fight, Flight, Freeze, or Fawn Response and prepares the body to react to a perceived threat. However, the body in a state of fear does not plan for the future because fear tells us to just survive. During the stress response, all bodily functions for healing and creation are halted. This includes digestion, reproductive hormone production, growth hormone production, and tissue repair.

Fear can keep us safe or fear can keep us stagnant. As activists, we often deal with both types of fear. On the one hand, many of our movements are born out of fear that marginalized folks feel regarding their safety, their livelihoods, and their environments that are under attack due to oppression. These fears keep folks safe by telling them that something is dangerous and needs to be addressed. This fear can motivate you to leave dangerous people, places, and situations. It can motivate you to protest, to organize your community, or to pressure your government. On the other hand, the demand for change and justice often causes the dominant culture to fear the loss of security, peace, and stability they are accustomed to. These fears keep folks stagnant and unable to relinquish comfort, security, or privilege for the greater good of the community.

We must encourage ourselves and others to see fear as a vehicle for transformation. Our fears can show us what needs to change. They also present an opportunity to deepen our capacity to trust our communities.

Addressing Fear - TCM and Ayurvedic Principles

In Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM), our organs have physiological and emotional functions. The kidneys, which house the adrenals, are the source of our willpower. Kidney energy holds our life force and drives fetal development, the first expression of our will. There’s a synergy between TCM and biomedicine’s understanding of the kidneys because, in both systems, our kidneys and adrenals push us to continue living.

In modern teachings of Ayurveda, the 7 primary chakras are energy centers in the body and each processes different aspects related to our humanity. Ideally, each chakra center should be open allowing energetic flow within the body. Blockages in these energetic centers can cause mental and emotional imbalances. The Mūlādhāra (Sanskrit: मूलाधार, the Root Chakra) is located at the base of our spine and it is related to a sense of safety. When it is open, our basic needs are met and we feel grounded and courageous. When it’s blocked, we may feel ungrounded, fearful, anxious, or insecure. The Mūlādhāra is our foundation, and if it’s not open and balanced, we will struggle with the emotions of the higher chakras like passion, confidence, love, and spirituality.

We can work on confronting fear and building courage by working with herbs that have an affinity for the kidneys and the Mūlādhāra.

Herbs for Fear

Burdock (Arctium lappa)

Burdock is a liver and kidney tonic. Historically, it was used for acute poisoning and blood purification. Burdock's roots can extend 6 feet into the ground which speaks to its use for truth-seeking and releasing unhealthy generational fears.

Devil’s Claw (Harpagophytum procumbens)

Devil’s Claw is useful for joint-related disorders such as arthritis and gout. Our bones, joints, and connective tissue are the structural foundations of our bodies and are related to the Root Chakra.

Fear, insecurity, and other Root Chakra imbalances can physically manifest as bone, joint, and tissue disorders. Devil’s Claw is useful for strengthening our foundations and providing stability for us to move forward.

These statements have not been evaluated by the Food and Drug Administration. Consult with your physician before starting any herbal protocol especially if you are pregnant, nursing, or have an existing medical condition.

Courage Body Oil

This infused oil strengthens the Root Chakra and kidneys for courage and resilience. Apply topically to the base of the spine and soles of the feet daily, or whenever you need extra courage. Do not consume if adding essential oils or using a nonfood grade oil.

  • 2 tsp dried Burdock root

  • 2 tsp dried Devil’s Claw root

  • 2 tsp dried Ginger root

  • 4 oz sweet Almond oil (or any other skin-safe oil like Olive or Jojoba)

  • Optional: Root Chakra and skin-safe essential oils (like Patchouli, Vetiver, Myrrh, or Frankincense)*

Grind the herbs as finely as possible. Combine Burdock, Devil’s Claw, Ginger, and oil in a 4 oz glass jar. Shake and let sit for 3-4 weeks in a warm spot in indirect sunlight, shaking frequently. Strain and add essential oils, mix well. Add the infused oil to a roller bottle for easy application.

Charge your infusion with a Root Chakra crystal like Jet, Tourmaline, or Obsidian for added intention.

*A 1-2% concentration of essential oils is safe for use on skin. Do not exceed a 2% concentration. I use 12 drops per oz. of oil (2%). Some essential oils like Cinnamon, Oregano, and Peppermint may irritate the skin even at a 2% concentration, so it’s best to avoid them for topical uses.

Reflections

Courage isn’t the absence of fear but the overcoming of it. When we are aware of the fears that surface in our movements, we are more empowered to overcome them. Here are some reflective prompts to help bring your fears to the surface:

  1. What scares others about your liberation movement? What scares you?

  2. How has fear impacted your decision-making as an activist?

  3. How do you soothe yourself when you are fearful?

I hope these reflections, herbs, and prompts generate some courage within you. Part II of In the Belly of the Beast will cover community conflict.

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